Finding joy by connecting with people at work

Lina Fronda - Owner, Lina’s Fruit and Produce, Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington

Feature | Seattle, Washington | 15 November 2021
With the assistance of her son and other family friends, Lina Fronda, the owner and operator of Lina’s Fruit and Produce, has been a mainstay at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle for the last 58 years. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
It’s just after dawn at Pikes’s Place Market and the vendors are already busy stocking the cases and shelves with goods in advance of the steady stream of shoppers. The scent of fresh brewed coffee from the original Starbucks nearby permeates the air as the sun’s rays reflect off the snow-capped summit of Mount Rainier.

One of those vendors is Lina Fronda, owner and operator of Lina’s Fruit and Produce, has been hard at work unboxing and neatly displaying her fruits and vegetables for today’s visitors. “My name is Lina Fronda,” she introduces herself with a warm smile. “That’s with an F-R, and I’m not related to Jane Fonda,” she jokes with a big chuckle.

Lina cites her interaction with visitors and other vendors as the best part of her job. “I get to help people pick their fruits and vegetables, and I enjoy talking to them all the time no matter what,” she says joyfully.

“I have a lot of people talking to me, I am surrounded by lots of friends in my customers and the other vendors. If I go to any of these restaurants or cafes, they give me free coffee,” she highlights as she points to a row of food and drink vendors.

As she arranges an order of rambutans and mangosteens that a customer has just purchased, Fronda explains that to her, work is an important means to support herself, and to maintain her independence and dignity.

A typical workday for Lina begins at 4:30 am and ends at 9:30 pm when she goes to bed. She cites prayer and faith in her religion as what keeps her going strong and working hard. ILO Photos/John Isaac
“Work is important because you have to pay the bills,” she states. “I don’t get rich from a small business like this, but I have enough to pay my bills, and I don’t have to beg anyone for help. I just work,” she underscores proudly.

Originally from the Philippines, Lina first came to the US when she was 23 years old in 1963 to marry a man much older than herself. They day after she arrived in Seattle she came to work at the market. Now at the age of 81, she is still going strong and says she will continue running her small fruit and vegetable stand at Pikes Place Market.

“I’ll just keep working until I drop dead!” she exclaims with a hearty laugh and bright smile. “It’s just my arthritis and my knee that bother me a little, especially in the wintertime, but other than that I am ok,” Lina confirms.

Widowed from a young age when her son was just 14 years old, Lina had to find a way to balance raising a teenage son, while working hard. “I tried to raise him strictly, just as I was raised in the Philippines,” Fronda says. “I would tell him if he didn’t behave, that I would be the first to call the police on him. It must have worked because ever since then he has been good,” she giggles.

For Lina, a typical day at work begins with a prayer when she wakes up early in the morning, followed by a trip to the wholesale house with her son, who drives her and also assist her at the market stall. “I get up at 4:30 am and I pray first before I get out of bed, and then I pray again when I first get out of the house to be sure that we are safe,” she shares emphasizing that her faith and dedication to her religion, are big sources of motivation for her and keep her going strong. “I pray for my family and everybody else too.”

Lina says her favourite part of her work is the community feel she derives from interacting with other vendors and shoppers visiting the Market. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“After the wholesale we come here to the market, I arrange my produce and begin my day. When I’m done with work in the afternoon -evening, I go home and do my yard work until about 9:30 pm and then I go to sleep and do it all over again,” Lina says with palpable enthusiasm in her voice.

Her enthusiasm, energy, and gratitude for life and work, are visible in the way Fronda talks and laughs with everyone around her. She describes her work environment at Pike Place as having a very tightknit community like feel where everyone cares for each other.

“Everybody is worried about me because they say I do nothing but work and that I have no life, but I tell them I do have a life!” Lina asserts passionately.

As a group of customers approach her stall and examine the large ripe fresh tomatoes from her display, she takes a sip of the coffee someone has just brought to her. “For me work is life, and I am happy with what I do.”